Fast-growth businesses are vital to the success of the UK economy. While ambitious startups bootstrap their ideas to the market -with perhaps just a handful of employees on their books - and corporate businesses focus on finding efficiencies and cutting staff, it is the scale-ups who are recruiting and creating jobs.
But here's the problem. Almost by definition, a rapidly growing business will not only need to increase headcount, it will also require people with skills that aren't necessarily in the company at the moment. For instance, a software or tech-led business will probably need more coders and engineers but also people to fill roles in marketing, business development and finance. And that could be particularly tricky, if say, the existing marketing operation needs to be supplemented by people with contacts in overseas territories.
Raising awareness will take time.
So the good news is that a rapidly growing business – whether established and going through a growth spurt or scaling up from startup/early-stage status – will be creating lots of interesting and well paid work. The bad news? Well, it is probably under the radar screen of most potential employees. This is particularly true when you consider the talent of tomorrow. School and university leavers may well relish the opportunity to work in a stimulating scale-up business. But they won't necessarily know who the scale-ups are, where they are operating and – crucially – what skills they require.
Here in the UK businesses – particularly but not exclusively tech-based ventures - are already struggling with skills shortages. And these are likely to get worse, if and when Britain's departure from the European Union brings the system of free movement of people to an end.
One way to alleviate the problem is to encourage students to study relevant subjects, a strategy that would ultimately create a bigger pool of suitably qualified workers. But how does that work in practice? Students can certainly carry out a quick check to identify the skills required by KPMG, Barclays or Google, but it's a lot tougher to get a handle on what the big employers of tomorrow are looking for.
Back to the Classroom
Enter stage right, Founders4Schools, an organisation established to promote greater awareness of the requirements of scale up companies within British schools and Universities.
As executive chair and founder, Sherry Coutu explains, Founders4Schools was established in response to a fundamental question faced by businesses, educationalists and economic planners. “What do we do as a society to help the leaders of scale-ups to access more talent? ”
As Coutu sees it one answer to that question is to provide students with more information about fast growing scale-ups in every region of the UK. “What we can do is say to people in schools that this represents a really good career path,” she says.
In theory, this should be a case of kicking at an open door. Universities and schools genuinely work hard to provide students not only with a good education but also with an awareness of the job opportunities that lie beyond graduation. The problem is that scale-up businesses tend to be under-represented at career evenings and graduate recruitment fairs. This is largely because the terms “fast growth” and “scale ups” cover an amorphous group of businesses across just about every sector.Many are relatively young and for a teacher or careers adviser, they can be hard to spot. “Universities tend to have no idea about what a fast-growth company is,” says Coutu.
To address this issue, Founders4Schools has created an online tool to help academics and career advisers book leaders of fast-growth companies to attend careers fairs or simply speak to students.
A Booking Engine
At the heart of the website is a database of genuine fast-growth business ( as verified by Scale-up Institute research) which can be searched by town, postcode, region and sector. A search will not only tell you who the fast-growth companies are in any given area but also the skills they are looking for. Equally important, teachers can book managers from the company to attend events, using the site's tools.
“It provides a means for for those managers to talk about what they need to children at a very young age,” says Coutu. “At the moment, a lot of children are choosing subjects that are not very attractive to employers.”
The sweet spot, says Coutu, is students between 15 and 17, an age range within which choices are still being made about 'A' level and university subjects. And by providing information on fast-growth companies themselves and their skills requirements, the hope is that the initiative will result in better subject choices and more appropriately qualified people feeding into the workplace in five or six years time.
At the moment, the site is aimed at helping academics to book managers to speak to students. However, the site can also be used by the students themselves to search for scale-ups in their areas and from January an app will come on stream to allow them to talk to managers directly.
There's a lot to do. As Coutu points out, not only do scale-ups tend to be under the radar but there is also considerable regional disparity in awareness levels.
In the meantime, owners of fast-growth companies could do worse than spend some time in the classroom talking to tomorrow's talent.